Every parent wants the best for his or her child. But many parents don’t realize that there are harmful chemicals in many mainstream baby products. In this guide we’ll arm you with everything you need to know in order to make safer choices for your child. This is going to be a long one — below is a quick preview of what’s ahead so you can jump around easily.
UPDATE 2/17: I’m in the process of updating this post — I plan to update recommendations and links, and also to expand to additional categories. So far I’ve made it through the Nursery section. If there is something in particular you’d love to see updated or added, leave me a note in the comments! 🙂
- Why non-toxic?
- Nursery (including Crib & other furniture, Crib mattresses, Rockers & gliders, Changing pads, and Non-toxic paint)
- Gear (including Strollers, Car seats, Baby carriers, Playards/travel cribs, Bouncers & swings, and Activity gyms & mats)
- Feeding & eating (including Breastfeeding pillows, Bottles/nipples & breast pumps, Pacifiers & teethers, Food prep & storage, Tabletop (dishes, cups, utensils), and Food)
- Bath, potty, & cleaning (including Baby shampoos & lotions, Sunscreen, Disposable diapers & wipes, Diaper creams, Hand soap & hand sanitizers, Cleaning products, Dish detergent, and Laundry detergent)
- Other keys to a safer household environment
- Resources for further reading
- Glossary: Chemicals and materials of concern
Harmful chemicals aren’t great for anyone, but babies are especially susceptible to their negative effects. First, their tiny little bodies make them vulnerable; pound for pound, they are exposed to more contaminants than adults. Second, their immature metabolism and organ systems are less capable of fending off harmful chemicals. Third, babies spend a lot of time on the floor, where they’re more likely to inhale dust and particles. And last, the fact that babies put their hands, toys, and everything else in their mouths makes them more likely to ingest the chemicals to which they are exposed.
Given the amount of time your baby will spend sleeping in her room — it’s worth investing in a safe nursery, and in particular a safe sleeping environment.
Avoid: Formaldehyde-based glues/resins, toxic finishes
If possible, avoid pressed wood, plywood, particleboard, and/or chipboard, which are often glued together with formaldehyde-based glues or resins.
Also avoid wood finishes that emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and/or contain heavy metals.
Look for: Solid wood or manufactured alternatives using safer glues, non-toxic wood finishes
If your budget allows, seek out furniture constructed out of solid wood. If not, your next best option is to look specifically for formaldehyde-free glues — look for PureBond glue or a water-based glue certified by GREENGUARD or “Green Seal.” If you already have a problematic hand-me-down crib, consider sealing it with a non-toxic sealant such as AFM Safecoat Safe Seal (Amazon, manufacturer website).
Then, regardless of the wood content, also look for wood furniture with a legitimately non-toxic finish; this means it is no- or low-VOC (volatile organic compound) and does not contain any heavy metals.
A few of the only truly non-toxic wood finishes include shellac, beeswax, tung oil, and linseed oil (flax seed oil). Look for a finish that is “food-grade” to ensure the safest possible finish for your child.
Next best are finishes that are water-based and “no VOC,” then “low-VOC.” Note that many (really, almost all) cribs are marketed as having a “non-toxic finish,” but this doesn’t necessarily mean they are safe. It simply means that they meet federal safety standards for lead in paint or surface coatings — i.e., meet or exceed the CPSIA lead limit of 90ppm (which unfortunately is not a strict enough standard). Look for products with documented test results of lead and other heavy metals. If they don’t readily come forward with good test results and/or aren’t transparent about their process, then chances are that their products don’t meet the bar for being non-toxic.
Recommended cribs & nursery furniture
For more picks and discussion, see our guide to Safer Cribs and Nursery Furniture.
Value pick: IKEA Sniglar crib
Think there’s no such thing as an affordable non-toxic crib? Think again. IKEA’s Sniglar crib (TotScoop link, IKEA) costs only $80 (!!). It’s made entirely of solid unfinished beech (even the base on which the mattress rests!). Beech is more durable than the dent-prone pine you will see in many other affordable cribs, and unfinished means that you don’t have to worry about what’s in the finish.
Note: The matching solid beech Sniglar changing table ($35) contains MDF and lacquer in the bottom panel; however IKEA claims to only use formaldehyde-free lacquers (see Improvement #42) and its fiberboard exceeds European guidelines for formaldehyde emission, which are comparable to CARB II standards (< 0.10 ppm).
Another popular pick which we previously also recommended was IKEA’s Gulliver Crib (TotScoop link, IKEA) ($99), which looks slightly higher end. However, the latest product listing indicates that, while most of the crib is constructed of solid beech, the rail (also known as your baby’s favorite teething toy) is made of MDF. Additionally, the entire crib is coated with lacquer. Thus, as of 2/17, our perspective is that the Gulliver does not match the health standard set by the Sniglar crib.
FYI, here is what IKEA customer service had to say about their lacquers when I contacted them via email in January 2015 (I was inquiring about the Gulliver):
The lacquer is non toxic and should not contain any VOC’s. But remember that a wooden frame will contain some formaldehyde due to it naturally occurring, in wood. All paint and lacquer are manufactured with water based non-toxic materials.
Does the Gulliver crib have formaldehyde or VOCs in it? Yes, The formaldehyde. The IKEA limit value is equal to the most stringent requirement in Europe and is for a complete product max 0.10 ppm accordingly to the European Standard EN 717-1 (chamber test method). Less than what is required in North American. In North America the ASTME 1333-96 legislation says that complete products produced and sold in North America should not have emission values that exceed 0.12 ppm.
Everyday pick: Babyletto Hudson 3-in-1 crib
Babyletto is another brand owned by the same company as DaVinci and holds itself to the same high safety standards (claiming that it far exceeds industry requirements for lead and phthalates, for example), but offers irresistibly modern designs.
Our favorite Babyletto crib is the Hudson 3-in-1 Crib (TotScoop, Amazon). Not only do we love the modern, low-rise design, but even more importantly we also love its safety profile. The Hudson is made out of solid sustainable New Zealand pine wood (it has a metal mattress base, instead of one made of MDF like most affordably priced cribs), has a lead- and phthalate-safe non-toxic finish, and is GREENGUARD Gold certified for very low VOC emissions. At $379, it’s quite reasonably priced, especially given that it includes a convertible bed rail to boot. The Hudson is manufactured in Taiwan.
The matching dresser changer ($379) is constructed from sustainable New Zealand pine wood and Carb II Compliant MDF (but is not GREENGUARD certified).
Premium pick: El Greco Woodworking
Our pick for modern non-toxic cribs available through mainstream channels are those made by El Greco Woodworking. Many of their products are solid wood; when they utilize MDF they use a no-added formaldehyde version that falls well below CARB II requirement levels; they use a pre-catalyzed (non-water-based) lacquer that is GREENGUARD-certified after the initial 30-day cure time); and they use non-toxic glues. See more details on how El Greco furniture is made here. They offer a range of styles ranging from classic to Arts & Crafts to modern.
No-compromises pick: Green Cradle
Green Cradle sets the gold standard for nursery furniture. All of their pieces are made from solid wood (a variety of hard woods are available), and incorporate no engineered or composite woods. They can be purchased either finished with food-safe linseed oil or unfinished. Moreover, all of their pieces are made in the USA, from sustainably grown wood. Green Cradle produces nursery sets in a wide range of styles, from traditional to more modern. Cribs run $995-1895; the most affordable is the beautifully simple Gratitude Slat Crib (TotScoop, manufacturer site), from $995, pictured below. You can browse all of Green Cradle’s cribs here. Matching dressers, changing tables, bookcases, and more are also available.
No-compromises pick: Pacific Rim
Their matching dresser (from $810) has a solid wood frame, with drawer bottoms made from your choice of engineered wood or Medite (a CARB II-compliant type of particleboard). One of our editors owns a twin bed from this company and can attest to the incredible quality of their products!
Avoid: Polyurethane foam, PVC/vinyl, flame retardants
Look for: Organic or certified-safe mattresses, natural fibers
Top choices include organic and/or GREENGUARD-certified mattresses. If your budget allows, consider one made exclusively from untreated natural fibers, such as organic cotton, wool, coir, and/or latex.
Recommended safer crib mattresses
Waterproof pick: Naturepedic No Compromise Organic Cotton Classic 150 Crib Mattress
Naturepedic is widely recognized as the premier source of organic, non-toxic mattresses. Their mattresses consist of a organic cotton outer (both cover and filling), food-grade polyethylene waterproofing layer (in the waterproof models only), and a steel innerspring. They are certified organic to the GOTS Standard and are also certified to the GREENGUARD Gold standard; view all of their certifications here.
We own both a Naturepedic crib mattress as well as a Naturepedic twin-sized mattress for our preschooler, and have been very happy with them. They arrived free of any chemical smells (they do smell of organic cotton initially, but it dissipates after a while) and have held up well over time, with no sagging. We use them together with the Naturepedic mattress protectors (TotScoop, Amazon, Naturepedic) for an extra layer of protection — these also incorporate their safer waterproofing technology and have worked and washed well here.
No-plastic picks: My Green Mattress and Greenbuds
If you’re a purist and don’t want any plastic whatsoever in your baby’s mattress, here are a couple of 100% natural / organic options. Keep in mind that, without a plastic layer, your mattress will not be truly waterproof, but you can mitigate this to some extent using a safer waterproofing option such as a lanolized wool puddle pad (and be sure to top it with an absorbent layer if you want it to work!).
My Green Mattress (TotScoop, Amazon, brand site) offers the Emily Natural Crib Mattress for an impressively low $249. It incorporates an GOTS certified organic cotton and natural wool quilted cover with organic cotton batting, layered over an innerspring. It contains no foam, plastics, or flame retardants. It gets pretty good reviews, though some customers complain about an initial smell. It comes with a 100-night comfort guarantee and a 10-year warranty.
Greenbuds Baby (TotScoop, Amazon, brand site) is another intriguing option. They offer a range of organic crib mattresses ($299-399), constructed of a natural coconut coir core and natural latex sleep surface layer encased in an organic cotton or organic-cotton-and-wool quilted cover. They are made in the USA and come with a 10-year warranty.
Avoid: Treated fabrics, and if possible also conventionally grown cotton
Avoid any bedding that has been treated to be “wrinkle-free,” “stain resistant,” “antibacterial,” etc.
Conventionally growth cotton is cultivated using a staggering amount of pesticides. If you buy conventionally grown cotton bedding, wash it several times before use.
Look for: Organic cotton or certified-safer textiles
Look for any 100% organic cotton bedding. Next best are any other textiles certified to the Oeko-Tex Standard or the Global Organic Textiles Standards.
Recommended non-toxic bedding picks
Basic organic fitted sheet picks: American Baby Company, Magnolia Organics
I can personally recommend this 100% organic cotton fitted sheet from American Baby Company (TotScoop, Amazon). It’s made of a nice midweight organic cotton, has stayed soft over many washes, and is reasonably priced at only $15. It has shrunk a bit with regular dryer use, but I can still stretch it over our standard-size crib mattress, so it’s not that big a deal for me.
The 100% organic fitted sheet from Magnolia Organics (TotScoop, Amazon), is a little more expensive at $20, but is another parent favorite. It also comes in more, brighter color options. If I need to get another sheet, I’ll probably try this one.
Premium organic fitted sheet pick: Winter Water Factory
I’ve also been drooling over these gorgeous 100% organic cotton fitted sheets from Winter Water Factory (TotScoop, brand site). At $44 they’re not cheap, but the prints are gorgeous. If they’re anything like WWF’s clothing, expect a decent amount of fading with washing.
Browse more organic crib bedding at Amazon.
Avoid: Flame retardants, non-certified safer polyurethane foam
Beware any products containing polyurethane foam, particularly those manufactured before 2014-15, when new flammability standards came into effect in California making it easier for furniture manufacturers to meet the standards without the use of chemical flame retardants.
Even if if you’re able to confirm a the polyurethane foam doesn’t contain any flame retardants, the foam itself may still offgas.
Look for: No flame retardants, certified-safer polyurethane foam
Look for rockers/gliders free of flame retardants.
Furthermore, if you’re going to buy a product containing polyurethane foam, look for a CertiPUR-US certified foam to make sure the foam itself is safe.
Comfort pick: Dutailier wood gliders
If you’re looking for comfort above all else, do not pass Go and head directly for Dutailier’s wood gliders (TotScoop, brand site), which sell in the $400-1000+ range. They aren’t cheap, but we’re confident you’ll agree they’re worth it after your umpteenth night spent sleeping in one. They have high backs for good support, and the higher-end models recline and can be locked in various recline positions. All Dutailier frames are made mostly of solid hardwoods (except for the sides and some assembly components), and the cushions are filled with CertiPUR-US certified polyurethane foam and polyester fill. According to Dutailier customer service, their foam no longer contains any flame retardants as of March 2014. Dutailier products manufactured before that date, however, likely contain flame retardants (though not PBDEs or chlorinated tris), so beware earlier models that you may find secondhand. The majority of Dutailier’s products come in a more traditional style, however they have started offering a few more contemporary styles recently as well.
Design pick: Monte Design Rockers & Gliders
Monte Design manufactures a gorgeous line of modern rockers and gliders, including the Joya Rocker (TotScoop, Giggle) (pictured below, $1095, plus $395 for optional ottoman), Jackson Rocker (TotScoop, Giggle) ($1195), and Como Glider (TotScoop, Giggle) ($1195). These works of art may cost you an arm and leg, but they’re the most gorgeous nursery chairs we’ve seen — and, most importantly, they’re completely safe for your little one. They’re filled with polyurethane foam that is partially derived from soybeans, are CertiPUR-US certified to be low-VOC, and are free of flame retardants. The outer fabric is Oeko-Tex certified microfiber.
I’ve sat in several Monte Design models, and I have to be honest, I don’t personally find them as comfortable or functional as my Dutailier. For example, the rocking/gliding motion can’t be locked, and I could never imagine sleeping in one. But if you don’t anticipate needing those features, one of these would certainly look no less than spectacular in your nursery. If you are interested, I’d recommend locating one in person to try out before purchasing, as the different models seem to fit different people differently.
Browse all Monte Design rockers & gliders here.
Avoid: Flame retardants, (non-certified) polyurethane foam, PVC/vinyl waterproofing layer
Most mainstream changing pads are made of polyurethane foam,, which is often treated with flame retardants. In particular, polyurethane foam changing pads manufactured prior to January 2014 (when changing pads were finally exempted from from CA flammability standards under the revised TB117-2013 standard) are very likely to contain flame retardants.
Even if if you’re able to confirm a the polyurethane foam doesn’t contain any flame retardants, the foam itself may still offgas.
Look for: Safer core material, no flame retardants, safer waterproofing layer
Choose a changing pad made of natural materials, such as 100% wool or cotton, or a safer synthetic such as polyester fiber core or CertiPUR-US certified polyurethane foam.
No matter what material your changing pad is made out of, make sure it is free of flame retardants.
If a waterproofing layer is important to you, look for safer waterproofing materials such as polyethylene or polyurethane laminate. Wool is also naturally water-resistant (but is not 100% waterproof).
Everyday pick: Oeuf Pure and Simple Contoured Changing Pad
Manufactured by Colgate for Oeuf, the affordable non-toxic Pure and Simple Contoured Changing Pad (TotScoop, Amazon), $50, is made from plant-based, CertiPUR-US certified polyurethane foam and is topped with a cloth cover backed with food-grade polyurethane. It is free of flame retardants and is GREENGUARD-certified. You’ll need a waterproof cover to prevent staining.
Premium pick: Naturepedic Organic Cotton Contoured Changing Pad
From the gold standard brand in non-toxic mattresses comes this safe yet practical non-toxic changing pad (TotScoop, Amazon), $99. It consists of organic cotton filling and a support layer made from 100% food-grade polyethylene, topped with organic cotton fabric with a stain-resistant 100% polyethylene food-grade waterproof coating.
Splurge, no-plastic pick: Holy Lamb Organics wool changing pad
If you want to go totally plastic-free, this wool pad (TotScoop, brand site), $175, from Holy Lamb Organics features an organic cotton outer and 100% premium eco-wool inner filling. It’s not waterproof, so be sure to use a water-resistant wool puddle pad (Holy Lamb Organics sells this one for $60) or other safer waterproofing layer on top. Add an absorbent cotton layer (cloth diaper prefolds like these are cheap and work great!) between baby and puddle pad for an additional layer of protection and easy cleanup.
Avoid: Traditional paints
Traditional paints include solvents that help ingredients to stay evenly dissolved and to dry. However, they emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as they dry.
Look for: No- or low-VOC paints
Choose low- or no-VOC paints, or alternatives like milk paints.
Also don’t paint while you’re pregnant, especially if scraping of old paint (which may or may not contain lead) is involved.
Lullaby Paints is one brand that specializes in no-VOC paints for nurseries.
Also check out this list of other low- and no-VOC paints from Babycenter.
Avoid: Flame retardants, fabric coatings
Avoid flame retardants whenever possible. Strollers manufactured prior to December 2010 (when strollers were exempted from the flammability requirements of CA TB 117) are very likely to contain flame retardants. And while many strollers manufactured after that date do not contain them, there is no guarantee, so you should definitely check. You will probably need to inquire directly with the manufacturer to find out what if any specific flame retardants they use.
According to research from the folks at Organic Baby University, the following stroller manufacturers self-reported flame retardant use at time of writing: Baby Trend, Inglesina, Combi, Peg Perego, Chicco (safer flame retardant), and Cybex. (Note: Other sources suggest that Inglesina and Peg Perego may have phased out flame retardants since then. Others may have as well, given changing regulations. As always, we recommend checking directly with the manufacturer before making a purchase.)
If you already own a stroller with flame retardants, you can reduce them by leaving it outside in the sun for a few days and/or by washing the cover with soap (not laundry detergent).
Avoid any fabrics treated with any coatings (e.g. to provide waterproofing, stain resistance, or anti-bacterial protection). BOB strollers reportedly have a polyurethane coating for stain resistance.
Look for: No flame retardants, no fabric coatings, organic/certified textiles (if desired)
Look for a stroller that contains no flame retardants or fabric coatings (e.g. for waterproofing, stain resistance, anti-bacterial protection, etc.).
If desired, you can also look for a stroller featuring organic, Oeko-Tex, or GOTS-certified fabrics. Orbit Baby features only uses fabrics certified to the Oeko-Tex 100 Standard.
Recommended safer stroller brands
UPPAbaby has unfortunately historically not been super transparent with regard to its use of flame retardants and other additives. When I first published this post in 2014, the official word was that their then-current strollers (manufactured after July 2014) were free of flame retardants in “forward-facing” (i.e. external) fabrics only, but they declined decline to verify whether the underlying foam was treated (boo!). As of February 2017, the new party line is that their strollers are free of flame retardants, but when questioned with specifics they’re still not very forthcoming.
Based on email correspondence that we have had directly with Baby Jogger customer service, they stopped using flame retardants in their strollers as of September 2013. If you have an older model, you may be able to purchase a replacement set of fabrics from them.
Based on email correspondence that we have had directly with Bumbleride customer service, they stopped using flame retardants in their strollers as of their 2013/14 models. If you have an older model, you may be able to purchase a replacement set of fabrics from them.
According to Organic Baby University, the following stroller brands are also free of flame retardants (based on self-reporting from the manufacturers): Bugaboo, Britax, BOB, Maclaren, Maxi Cosi, Phil & Ted’s, Mountain Buggy, Orbit Baby, Mamas and Papas, Evenflo, The First Years, Graco, 4moms, and Joovy.
You can view our general guides to the best strollers on TotScoop. Just make sure to confirm that the stroller you’re looking at is flame retardant free before purchasing.
Unfortunately, nearly all car seats sold in the U.S. today are treated with chemical flame retardants, due to Federal Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 302 (which governs flammability of all interior materials in cars). However, you still have room to make a safer choice within these constraints. Additionally, there are a handful of car seats that are actually able to pass safety standards without the use of any flame retardant chemicals (for example, by utilizing treated fabrics or naturally fire-resistant materials such as wool).
Avoid: Brominated and chlorinated flame retardants
Avoid car seats treated with halogenated (i.e. brominated or chlorinated) flame retardants (such as TDCPP and TCPP). Unfortunately, this includes almost all car seats on the market.
If you buy or already own a conventional car seat, you can reduce the flame retardants in your seat by leaving it outside in the sun for a few days or washing the cover with soap (not laundry detergent).
Look for: Safer flame retardants, certified-safer textiles (if desired)
Look for “safer,” non-halogenated flame retardants such as phosphate-based or Oeko-Tex certified flame retardants. Nuna, Clek, Cybex, Orbit Baby, Diono, Britax, and UPPAbaby are the brands we are aware of that either claim to use safer flame retardants, or to sell seats that meet the flammability standards without the addition of chemical flame retardants.
If desired, you can also look for Oeko-Tex certified fabrics, which meet or exceed strict limits for nearly 200 chemicals (including heavy metals, phthalates, formaldehyde, pesticides, and flame retardants). Orbit and Nuna car seats feature Oeko-Tex certified fabrics.
Recommended safer car seats
Top infant car seat pick: UPPAbaby Mesa Henry
UPPAbaby stunned the baby gear world in October 2016 by announcing it would soon be releasing the first infant car seat completely free of flame retardants — woohoo!
Their “Henry (blue marl)” uses a naturally fire resistant wool blend fabric and has no added flame retardants. According to UPPAbaby, “No flame retardant chemicals are applied to the MESA Henry. Our chemical free flame bonding application of merino wool to foam allows us to rely on the inherent fire resistant qualities of wool to pass government flame retardant standards under FMVSS 302.” You can see more FAQs about the MESA here. The MESA Henry is expected to ship in April 2017. You can keep an eye out for the it at Pish Posh Baby.
The other colorways in the 2017 Mesa line ($50 cheaper, at $300) contain flame retardants, but they are safer flame retardants — in UPPAbaby’s words, they do not include any “melamine, brominated, chlorinated, or organophosphate (including: TDCPP, TPP, TCPP) flame retardants — so if you can’t swing the Henry, they’re pretty good choices too.
Top infant car seat pick: Nuna Pipa infant seat
The Nuna Pipa (TotScoop, Giggle, brand site), $300, car seat incorporates a safer flame retardant (ammonium polyphosphate) as well as Oeko-Tex certified fabrics. Per a phone conversation I had with their customer service team, none of the exterior fabrics is treated with flame retardants, only the interior foam. We also love how refreshingly forthcoming this company is about what chemicals are used in their seats. Add all that to the modern design and unique safety features such as a load leg, and you have another topf infant car seat pick.
Top convertible car seat pick: Clek Foonf
The Clek Foonf ($432) is also free of bromine and chlorine-based flame retardants. This was confirmed for 2014 models by third-party independent tester HealthyStuff.org. Clek’s Crypton “Super Fabric” covers, treated to provide protection against stains, moisture and odor-causing bacteria, are GREENGUARD Select Certified. This seat also gets high marks from car seat experts for safety and usability, so if it’s in your price range there’s no good reason not to buy it. We own one and have been very happy with it.
Runner up: Orbit Baby G3 Infant Car Seat and G3 Toddler Seat
Orbit Baby has long been a leader in non-toxic baby gear. Their G2 products used only Oeko Tex certified fabrics AND foam, however since their foam supplier went out of business they have transitioned to only using a bromine-free standard for their foam. Their G3 Infant Car Seat ($440) and G3 Toddler seat ($380) still are both supposedly free of all brominated and chlorinated flame retardants, however we’ve seen some concerning results from independent testing that suggest that many Orbit car seats are testing positive for more hazardous flame retardants. We can’t conscionably give them our highest recommendation until this gets sorted out (especially given the price point), but it’s definitely worth checking in on the situation before you buy. You can see a statement from Orbit Baby here.
Runner up: Britax B-Safe (infant) and convertible car seats
Britax has made major strides in this area (and seems to have been doing a great job of marketing it as well) recently. They have switched to exclusive use of safer, non-halogenated fire retardants, as of January 1, 2013.
The Britax B-Safe ($144) is a top-rated infant car seat, and Britax of course also sells some of the most popular convertible car seats as well — and all at more affordable price points than our top picks — so they are definitely worth considering.
Runner up: Diono Radian R Series (convertibles)
The Diono Radian R series (i.e. Radian RXT, R120 and R100; $208-270) include several styles (“Storm” and “Rugby”) with fabrics that are complete free of fire retardants. Diono explains that the micro-mesh velour fabric is flame retardant without requiring any added chemical treatment. The interior foam is likely still treated with flame retardants, but overall this is still better than most other car seats on the market.
Avoid: Flame retardants
Sadly, many baby carriers (especially older ones) contain flame retardants. Baby carriers sold prior to December 2010 (when carriers were exempted from the flammability requirements of CA TB 117) are very likely to contain them, and some sold after that date inexplicably contain them as well. If you’re not sure about your carrier, you’ll probably need to contact the manufacturer to ask.
Look for: No flame retardants, organic or certified-safe textiles (if desired)
Based on manufacturer inquiries by the folks at Organic Baby University and The Mindful Home, Ergo, Baby Bjorn, Moby, Baby K’Tan, Beco (carriers manufactured after January 2013), Catbird Baby, Babyhawk, Lillebaby, Maya, Onya Baby, Peapod, Kelty, Deuter, Graco, and Infantino all self-report their carriers to be free of flame retardants. Boba also confirmed via email that they have never used flame retardants. You can safely pick any of these carriers that meet your needs (for specific recommendations, see here).
If you desire, organic or certified-safe fabrics are also available from several manufacturers. Organic cotton editions are available from Ergo and many other manufacturers. Baby Bjorn carrier fabrics are certified to the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 Class 1 standard, indicating that they are free from all substances hazardous to health and allergens.
Avoid: Flame retardants, non-certified safer polyurethane foam
Many playards contain mattresses made of polyurethane foam, which has potential to offgas and most likely also contains flame retardants (especially those manufactured prior to 2014, when playards were exempted from flammability standards under the revised CA TB 117-2013). Unfortunately, manufacturers are not required to stop using flame retardants in playards, so you still need to do your homework.
In particular, be aware that the ultra-popular Graco Pack N Play did contain fire retardants prior to January 2014.
Look for: No flame retardants, safer mattress, certified-safer fabrics
If you’re buying a new playard, look for one containing no flame retardants, and try to avoid polyurethane foam unless it is a certified low-VOC foam (though sadly these are very rare). If you already have an older playard with a polyurethane foam mattress and/or a mattress treated with flame retardants, consider swapping it out for a safer mattress (though make sure for safety reasons that the fit is very tight), for example one made of cotton, wool, or CertiPUR-US certified foam that is free of flame retardants.
At least some newer Graco Pack N Plays are flame retardant free; here’s what customer service had to say via email: “We can also confirm that a Graco Pack N Play that is both manufactured after January 1, 2014, and does not have a California Technical Bulletin compliance tag attached, does not contain a flame retardant additive in the upholstered pad.” It’s not clear whether they are endeavoring to remove flame retardants from all Pack N Play models, and you still run the risk of running into old stock out there — so take care to confirm that both of the above are true on the specific model that you receive — but going forward Graco can tentatively also be considered a safer brand.
Everyday pick: Lotus Travel Crib and Portable Baby Playard
Guava Family is a relative newcomer on the baby product scene, but its Lotus ($198) is top-rated. It contains no flame retardants, PVC, phthalates, or lead. The mattress is flame retardant-free polyurethane foam. The main fabric body is machine washable.
Everyday pick: Nuna Sena
The Dutch-designed Nuna Sena ($199) features Oeko-Tex certified fabrics. The mattress is made of polyurethane foam and fiber fill, but models manufactured after October 2013 are free of flame retardants. According to their customer service team, Nuna funds independent third-party testing on the finished products to ensure that they are free of flame retardants, phthalates, bromine, etc. (major props to them for this!). Of course, you need to be careful if you buy used (check the manufacturing date to make sure it’s after October 2013).
Premium pick: Baby Bjorn Travel Crib Light
If you’re looking for something on the more compact side, the Baby Bjorn Travel Crib Light ($250) is not only top-rated and super easy to use, but is also certified safe to the Oeko-Tex 100, Class 1 standard. The mattress is made of 100% polyether foam (a type of polyurethane) but is free of flame retardants. The main crib fabric and mattress cover are both removable and machine washable.
Avoid: Flame retardants, non-certified safer polyurethane foam
Most baby bouncer and swings historically contain flame retardants. Those manufactured prior to January 2014 (when both categories of products were exempted from flammability standards under the revised CA TB 117-2013) are especially likely to contain them; and unfortunately, many continue to contain them today. Unless you are able to get information direct from the manufacturer that a bouncer or swing does not contain flame retardants, you should assume that it does.
The market leader in baby bouncers and swings, Fisher-Price, was unfortunately not at all forthcoming when contacted directly about their use of flame retardants, from which we can only conclude that their products are to be avoided.
Look for: No flame retardants, safer mattress, certified-safer fabrics
Below are two non-toxic bouncer picks free of flame retardants.
Sadly, we’re not aware of any conventional baby swings that are free of flame retardants. If you learn of one, please let us know and we’ll update this post.
Premium pick: Nuna Leaf Curv Bouncer
The beautiful, inertia-powered Nuna Leaf ($229) is Oeko-Tex certified and, according to the inquiry to the manufacturer, does not contain any flame retardants as of May 2013. According to their customer service team, Nuna funds independent third-party testing on the finished products to ensure that they are free of flame retardants, phthalates, bromine, etc. (major props to them for this!). Of course, you need to be careful if you buy used (check the manufacturing date to make sure it’s after May 2013).
Premium pick: Baby Bjorn Bouncer Balance
The only Baby Bjorn Bouncer Balance ($163-177). Available in cotton, mesh, and organic cotton. All fabrics that touch baby’s skin in Baby Bjorn products are certified safe to the Oeko-Tex 100, Class 1 standard.
Avoid: Flame retardants, PVC, formamide
Fisher-Price was unfortunately not at all forthcoming when contacted about their use of flame retardants, from which we can only conclude that their activity gyms are to be avoided.
Look for: Natural materials or safer foam, no flame retardants, safer mattress, certified-safer fabrics
The safest choice is a mat made of natural materials — for example, 100% cotton (including the fill), cork, or natural latex or rubber.
If you are set on a foam mat for the extra cushioning, look for a safer foam such as formamide-free EVA or phthalate-free PVC.
Avoid: Flame retardants, PVC/vinyl waterproofing layers
Nursing pillows have been exempt from the flammability requirements of Technical Bulletin (TB) 117 since 2010. However, older nursing pillows may contain flame retardants. We recommended buying new instead of accepting an unvetted hand-me-down.
That said, newer pillows should be checked as well. Avoid pillows labeled as meeting California flame retardant standard TB 117, and those made out of polyurethane foam (more likely to be treated with fire retardants), unless you are certain they are not treated with fire retardants (popular brands Boppy and My Brest Friend are OK).
Also avoid nursing pillows that use PVC/vinyl as a waterproofing layer.
Look for: Natural materials or safer synthetics, no flame retardants, safer waterproofing layers
The safest nursing pillows contain an organic outer layer and cotton, wool, or buckwheat fill. If you want to get a polyester or polyurethane foam-filled pillow, make sure it is not treated with flame retardants. Also, most nursing pillows don’t have a waterproof layer, but if you’re looking for one that does, make sure that you look for safer waterproofing materials (such as polyethylene).
Value pick: My Brest Friend
There aren’t too many products made out of polyurethane foam gracing our top picks lists, but My Brest Friend is so clearly the #1 pick of lactation consultants that we felt that omitting it would be irresponsible. It may be filled with (non-certified-safer) polyurethane foam, but (according to the company) has been free of flame retardants since December 2010. Older models, however, were treated with a flame retardant (reportedly phosphate-based ANTIBLAZE V6), so give older hand-me-downs a pass unless they are NOT labeled as meeting the TB 117 standard.
Runner up: The popular Boppy ($30 for basic pillow, $45 with organic slipcover) is filled with virgin polyester fiberfill, is covered in 90% polyester/10% cotton, and according to the company has always been free of flame retardants. So it is a safer choice to buy either new or used. Slipcovers are available in organic cotton and other fabrics. A water-resistant protective cover made out of 100% micro-polyester is also available; it is fine as it not treated with any chemicals to make it waterproof.
Premium pick: Blessed Nest Nesting Pillow
The Nesting Pillow ($94) is filled with organic buckwheat hulls and covered in 100% cotton canvas (zippered slipcovers also available). I have used this pillow exclusively with my second child (5mo. as of time of writing; I previously used a Boppy and a Brest Friend with my first) and love it. It’s supportive, yet very moldable, so you can position it however you like. I personally prefer this shape to the Boppy shape as you can create a perfectly flat surface for baby (or angled, or whatever you want). It worked great during the newborn stage, and still works great for the infant stage (can’t personally speak beyond that as haven’t gotten there yet :)). If it’s within your budget, I highly recommend it.
Splurge pick: Holy Lamb Organics Bo Peep Nursing Pillow
If you prefer the classic Boppy shape, the Bo Peep ($110) is a top pick. It consists of 100% eco-wool batting topped with a 100% organic cotton cover. We drool!
Avoid: Plastic containing BPA or phthalates; rubber nipples
Older plastic bottles made of polycarbonate (plastic #7; a clear, hard plastic) may contain bisphenol A (BPA), which can leach into formula and breast milk. BPA was banned by the FDA in baby bottles and sippy cups in July 2012, and in infant formula packaging in July 2013, so products on the shelves today should all be BPA-free. Be sure to inspect any hand-me-downs, however, to make sure they were manufactured after that date and/or are BPA-free.
Avoid latex rubber nipples, which can cause allergic reactions and may also contain phthalates.
Avoid any breast pump that does not explicitly say that all of the parts are BPA-free and phthalate-free (most of them these days should). This is important since they will need to withstand frequent washings in hot water.
Look for: Glass or BPA-free plastic bottles; clear silicone nipples; BPA-free formula packaging
When bottle feeding infants, choose glass or BPA-free plastic bottles.
BPA-free plastic bottles are largely believed to be safe, however several studies (see here and here) have already found that BPA-free plastics can still have significant amounts of estrogenic activity. Cautious parents wary of other harmful chemicals potentially being discovered in plastic in the future may prefer to opt for glass as the safest option.
Use clear silicone nipples.
When warming bottles, always do so in a pan of hot water rather than in the microwave. Microwaving not only degrades the milk and heats it unevenly, but can also cause chemicals to leach from plastic.
If you are formula feeding, make sure the formula you buy comes in BPA-free packaging. All metal cans containing formula that are manufactured after July 2013 should be BPA-free, but if on doubt you can opt for or liquid formula in glass or plastic containers or powdered formula. Use filtered water to purify and remove fluoride as needed.
For cleaning plastic bottles and pump parts: do a thorough sterilization before first use, but after that washing with hot soapy water should be sufficient most of the time. Note that frequent sterilization in the microwave or in boiling water will speed breakdown of the plastic, so sterilize only when you really need to do so.
Here are a few favorite safer bottle systems:
- Philips AVENT Natural Glass Bottles ($7)
- Dr Brown’s Natural Flow Glass Bottles ($20 for 3-pack)
- Lifefactory Glass Bottle ($14)
- Pura Kiki Stainless Steel Bottles (from $14): This system is pricey, but is unique in that it grows with your child: you can swap out nipples for infants, sippy spouts for younger toddlers, and straws for older toddlers and preschoolers. You can also order directly from their website.
Avoid: Plastic (unless explicitly marked PVC, BPA, and phthalate-free)
Beware especially soft plastic teethers, such as the kind that can be chilled in the freezer, as they are typically made of PVC and are softened with phthalates.
Purists may want to avoid all plastic, even products marked PVC, BPA, and phthalate-free, since some studies have suggested that other plastics can have estrogenic properties as well (see links above).
Look for: Silicone, rubber, organic cotton, unfinished wood
Recommended safer pacifiers & teethers:
Here are some favorite pacifiers:
And some favorite non-toxic teethers:
- Sophie the Giraffe ($20)
- Maple Landmark solid wood teether 2-pack ($14)
- Lifefactory 2 Pack Multi Sensory Silicone Teether ($15)
Avoid: Plastic containing BPA, Teflon/non-stick cookware
Only buy plastic products that do not contain BPA. Most manufacturer clearly label their products as “BPA-free” on the packaging, so if it’s not there, it’s probably not BPA-free. If you’re unsure about an older plastic item, check the plastic recycling code on the bottom; if it’s #7, give it a pass and recycle it.
According to EWG, you should avoid Teflon/non-stick cookware because it can release toxic fumes at high temperatures. If you already own Teflon cookware, take steps to keep it from reaching unsafe temperatures.
Look for: Glass or BPA-free plastic, stainless steel or cast iron cookware
For preparing and storing food under normal temperature conditions, BPA-free plastic is generally considered safe.
However, for any dishes that you plan to microwave or regularly wash in the dishwasher, we recommend glass over plastic. Exposing plastic (even BPA-free plastic) to high temperatures (and/or detergent) has been shown to cause the plastic to break down and leach other chemicals into food. Containers labeled “microwave-safe” have been tested by the FDA to meet prescribed limits for leached chemicals — but why risk it? Plastic labeled “dishwasher-safe” can go in the dishwasher, but put it on the top rack to minimize heat exposure.
As for freezer storage, we haven’t yet seen any compelling evidence that BPA-plastic is unsafe for long-term storage — but many parents choose glass or silicone “just in case” here as well.
In terms of food preparation techniques, maximize vitamins and minerals by steaming, baking, or broiling.
Recommended food prep & storage picks:
- NUK Mash & Serve Bowl
- BEABA Babycook Pro
- BEABA Multiportions Containers (baby food freezing tray; transfer to freezer bags for long-term storage)
- Wean Green Wean Cubes Baby Food Glass Containers (available in multiple sizes)
Avoid: Plastic containing BPA, microwaving plastics
Avoid polycarbonate containers (marked with a #7 or “PC”), especially for children’s food and drinks, unless they are specifically marked “BPA-free.”
Look for: Stainless steel, glass, silicone, safer plastic
The safest materials for serving food are stainless steel or glass. Food-grade silicone is also safe (the safest kind, pure silicone without any additives, will pass the “pinch test,” meaning it will not turn white when you pinch it).
If you prefer the convenience of plastic, look for safer plastics marked with #1, 2, 4, or 5 recycling codes (which don’t contain BPA and are generally safer for foods). Don’t microwave plastics or use them with hot foods or liquids. Wash them by hand or on the top rack of the dishwasher. Discard worn plastic items.
Recommended safer tabletop picks:
- BEABA First Stage Silicone Spoons
- Fresh Baby So Easy Baby Bowl
- OXO Tot Fork and Spoon Set
- Innobaby Stainless Bus Divided Platter
- Thermos FOOGO Phases Stainless Steel Straw Bottle
Favor fresh, unprocessed foods; avoid packaging containing BPA and PFCs
Fresh is better than frozen, and frozen is better than canned. Minimize consumption of processed foods, which have reduced nutritional value.
If you have to buy canned foods, try to avoid packaging containing BPA. Sadly, almost ALL canned foods today (even organic foods) are still packaged in metal cans containing BPA in the liner; see here for a handy cheat sheet of the few brands that use BPA-free cans. If it’s not explicitly labeled as BPA-free, you must assume it has BPA. If you buy conventional cans, rinse well before preparing to minimize BPA exposure.
Also avoid packaging containing and perfluorochemicals (PFCs) such as Teflon and Scotchgard, used for moisture resistance in some paper packaging.
Buy organic produce to limit exposure to pesticides
Buy organic when you can. If it’s prohibitively expensive to buy everything organic — you can pick and choose wisely, and still make a huge impact on your family’s pesticide consumption. Check out EWG’s 2014 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce for guidance on what foods are most and least important to buy organic, including their handy “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” rule-of-thumb lists.
See also EWG’s helpful guide to buying Good Food on a Tight Budget.
Buy organic meat/dairy to limit exposure to growth hormones & antibiotics
Organic meat and dairy products are prohibited by law from containing antibiotics and growth hormones. See also EWG’s Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health.
Avoid food additives & preservatives
Avoid artificial colors, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, added sugar, and added salt as much as possible. See here for a more detailed list of additives & preservatives to look for in ingredient lists from Healthy Child.
Avoid nitrites and nitrates
Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate are food preservatives and curing agents — often found in processed foods and cured meats like hot dogs and cold cuts. Excessive levels of nitrates are linked to health concerns, especially in kids. Nitrites can convert into nitrates under certain circumstances, making them problematic as well.
See Healthy Child’s tips for reducing your family’s consumption of nitrites and nitrates.
Most conventional baby personal care products contain ingredients that are of at least some health concern; and some are of high health concern. Buy smart and use products sparingly to minimize your child’s exposure to harmful chemicals.
When inspecting ingredient labels for personal care products in general, here’s what to look out for, according to EWG:
- Start at the end, with preservatives. Avoid:
- Check the beginning of the ingredients lists, where soaps, surfactants, and lubricants show up. Try to avoid ingredients that start with “PEG” or have an “-eth” in the middle (e.g., sodium laureth sulfate).
- Check for additives (such as artificial fragrances and dyes) in the middle. Look for these words: “FRAGRANCE,” “FD&C,” or “D&C.”
For kids specifically, EWG underscores the importance of buying fragrance-free products, and identifies its top six chemicals of concern for this age group:
- 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3 Diol
- Boric acid and sodium borate
- DMDM Hydantoin
Recommended safer baby washes and lotions:
- Earth Mama Angel Baby brand (EWG rating: 0-2 across all products)
- Paradise Island Organics (cheesy packaging, but fantastic and chemical-free products)
- Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Hemp Pure-Castile Liquid Soap (EWG rating: 0-1)
NB: The popular “natural” baby product brands Burt’s Bees, California Baby, and Honest Company did not make our list above, but are definitely better than conventional baby products.
Avoid: Chemical sunscreens, oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate
It’s best to avoid traditional chemical sunscreens, which rely on chemicals being absorbed into the skin to absorb UV rays within skin cells, especially for babies and young children.
Oxybenzone, a common ingredient in chemical sunscreens, provides effective broad-spectrum protection, but may be an endocrine disruptor and as such should definitely be avoided.
If you have no choice but to buy a chemical sunscreen (e.g. no other options at the convenience store nearest the beach), look instead for safer options avobenzone or mexoryl (also called ecamsule).
Also avoid retinyl palmitate and retinol (derivatives of vitamin A), which are linked to skin cancer.
Look for: Physical mineral sunblocks (ideally zinc oxide), broad-spectrum coverage, paraben-free
Opt instead for physical sunblocks, which utilize minerals (such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide) to deflect rays from the skin. They sit on the surface of the skin instead of being absorbed into it. They’re a bit more expensive (because of the higher cost of mineral ingredients), but are definitely worth it. EWG states a preference for zinc oxide over titanium dioxide, as it offers better protection from UVA rays.
There’s some controversy over whether “nano” sized particles (which are small enough to “vanish” into the skin instead of appearing pasty white) are so small that they penetrate the skin. There is no scientific evidence so far that they do, but just in case some people prefer to buy “non-nano” formulations.
Recommended safer, mineral-based sunblocks:
- Thinkbaby (zinc oxide, non-nano; broad spectrum protection; paraben- and PABA-free; scented; EWG rating: 1)
- BurnOut (zinc oxide, non-nano; broad spectrum protection; paraben, PABA, and fragrance-free; EWG rating: 1)
Also see EWG’s 2015 guide to sunscreens (updated annually).
Avoid: Conventional diapers and baby wipes
The wood pulp within the absorbent core in conventional diapers is bleached with elemental chlorine, which produces dioxins — toxic, cancer-causing chemicals. The primary impact is harmful dioxin pollution in the world, but trace amounts could also potential remain in your baby’s diaper. Standard wood pulp often also contains remnants of TBT (tributyltin), an industrial biocide used as an antifungal agent in wood pulp mills.
Many diapers also contain additives — including artificial fragrance (used as a masking scent), dyes, and lotions. These are unnecessary and may even trigger allergic reactions, and thus are best avoided as well.
Conventional diaper wipes often include a number of chemicals to be avoided.
Look for: Chlorine-free, perfume-free, dye-free, eco-friendly (if desired)
If you care about reducing dioxins, look for diapers manufactured using a “chlorine-free” bleaching process; the “TCF” process is safest but rarest (diaper brands Naty and Honest Co. are the only ones we’re aware of that use it), while “ECF” is more widespread (used by most of the remaining premium diaper brands).
If you’re looking to eliminate all nasties — select diapers also advertise themselves as phthalate, organotin (MBT, DBT, TBT), HCHO (formaldehyde), AZO-pigment, colophonium, optical brightener, and PVC free.
If your baby gets frequent diaper rash, you may want to try one of the few disposable diapers with a non-plastic, more breathable waterproofing layer, such as Naty.
If you care about eco-friendliness, look for diapers that incorporate renewable resources (e.g. FSC-certified wood from sustainable forests or bamboo) and materials that are biodegradeable (e.g. plant-based waterproofing layers, absorbent core less reliant on SAP).
For baby wipes, dry wipes with just water are usually sufficient. If you are set on a solution-based wipe, scour ingredient lists and avoid bronopol, DMDM hydantoin, alcohol, fragrance, parabens, phthalates, propylene glycol, and phenoxyethanol.
And of course, cloth diapers and wipes are also great options if those are a do-able option for you!
Recommended safer disposable diaper and wipe products:
- Bambo Nature (top performance, nasty-free, very eco-friendly)
- Naty by Nature Babycare (good performance, nasty-free, more breathable, very eco-friendly)
- Earth’s Best (best budget premium diaper; free of key nasties, somewhat eco-conscious)
- Water Wipes (EWG rating: 0)
Avoid: BHA, boric acid, and fragrance; baby powder; routinely applying at every change
Most doctors no longer suggest routinely applying a preventive cream or ointment at every change, however such treatments are definitely helpful to treat diaper rash.
When you are dealing with rash, avoid products containing BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), boric acid, or fragrance.
Also give baby powder a miss — the tiny particles can be inhaled and cause damage or even death (!).
Look for: Zinc oxide, fragrance free
For disposable diapers — barrier creams containing petroleum jelly or zinc oxide are tried and true. We recommend zinc oxide as the safest option.
For cloth diapers — you’ll need to get a zinc-free balm in order to avoid adversely affecting the absorbency of your diapers. If your little one has a serious rash, you may need to switch to sposies for a little while so you can break out the big guns (e.g. zinc oxide).
Recommended safer diaper creams:
- Badger Organic Zinc Oxide Diaper Cream (zinc oxide; EWG rating: 0)
- Earth Mama Angel Baby Bottom Balm (zinc free; EWG rating: 0)
Avoid: Triclosan (antibacterial), frequent use of hand sanitizers
Just say no to antibacterial soaps containing triclosan (or the related triclocarbon), which has an EWG rating of 3 and is being investigated by the FDA and EPA for potentially harmful effects. No big loss though. According to the FDA, soap & hot water are just as effective at cleaning hands anyway!
There are mixed opinions on hand sanitizers. Some people recommend alcohol-free hand sanitizers for use with kids, because they can cause alcohol poisoning if ingested or absorbed into the skin in large quantities, and is also less drying. Others prefer alcohol-based sanitizers (containing at least 60% alcohol) because they are more effective at killing microorganisms (especially viruses), are less likely to contain triclosan (a main ingredient in many alcohol-free sanitizers), leave less “gunk” residue on hands, and do not encourage disease-causing microbes to develop resistance to antibiotics. Everyone, however, agrees that all hand sanitizers are inferior to soap and water; hand washing is more effective at eliminating microorganisms, and also allows any chemicals to be washed off instead of leaving them to be absorbed into the skin. So only use hand sanitizers sparingly.
Note that the ubiquitous Purell brand hand sanitizer rates a 4 (moderate hazard), so isn’t the best choice for regular use.
Look for: Triclosan-free, fragrance-free, EWG “A” rated
In addition to skipping the Triclosan, avoid soaps and sanitizers containing artificial fragrances.
You can find EWG top-rated liquid hand soaps that do NOT contain triclosan, triclocarbon, or fragrance here. (We haven’t found the perfect one yet to recommend. So far all the “0”-rated ones we’ve tried have been fairly hard to rinse off, so not great to use with kids. Our favorite so far is EO Hand Soap, Lemon & Eucalyptus, which has a respectable EWG rating of “2” and is clean-rinsing. Let us know if you find a lower-rated one that you love!)
For hand sanitizer, buy alcohol-based for maximum effectiveness (for kids who aren’t still mouthing everything), or buy or an alcohol-free product (for those who are) that does not contain triclosan (look for benzalkonium chloride). However, use it only when you absolutely need to — e.g. before eating or when you have good reason to think baby’s hands are contaminated — and you really can’t get to a sink.
Recommended safer hand sanitizers:
- Babyganics Alcohol-Free Foaming Hand Sanitizer, Fragrance Free (EWG rating: 1; alcohol-free, contains benzalkonium chloride)
- The Honest Company Hand Sanitizer Spray (EWG rating: 1; alcohol-based)
- Honest Company gel (EWG rating: 2; alcohol-based)
- EO Everyone Hand Sanitizer Gel (EWG rating: 2; alcohol-based)
You can find EWG’s other top-rated hand sanitizers here.
Avoid: Conventional cleaners
According to EWG, the following unsafe cleaning ingredients should be avoided in general:
- 2-butoxyethanol (or ethylene glycol monobutyl ether) and other glycol ethers
- Alkylphenol ethoxylates (e.g. nonyl- and octylphenol ethoxylates, or non- and octoxynols)
- Ethanolamines (e.g. mono-, di-, and tri-ethanolamine)
- Pine or citrus oil (compounds in the oils can react with ozone in the air to form the carcinogenic chemical formaldehyde)
- Quaternary ammonium compounds (e.g. alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (ADBAC), benzalkonium chloride, and didecyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride)
Beware “baby-safe” cleaners, many of which actually contain at least one of the above — for example, the popular Babyganics brand earns “D”s and “F”s from EWG on all of its products (yuck). Always be sure to read the label and check EWG before buying!
Look for: Vinegar-based or other non-toxic cleaners, EWG “A” rated
Vinegar-based cleaners are our top choice — the vinegar smell may take a little getting used to, but they’re safe and very effective. However, any EWG “A” rated cleaner will do the job.
Recommended safer cleaning products
See all top-rated general purpose cleaners from EWG here.
We use the vinegar-based Green Shield All Purpose Cleaner (EWG rating: A; also available at Costco) at home, and have been extremely happy with it. It gets the job done, and we feel great about babies crawling around on just-cleaned surfaces. They also sell bathroom, kitchen, degreaser, and glass cleaner versions.
Avoid: Phosphates, chlorine, and artificial fragrance
These are all harmful and unnecessary ingredients for an effective dish detergent.
PS: Once again, don’t think you’re good just because you’ve already got a “baby-safe” detergent. Babyganics’ dish soap and dishwashing detergent products earned a “D” and “F” from EWG, respectively. Meanwhile, Palmolive’s baby dish soap earned an “F.”
Look for: Non-toxic dish detergents, EWG “A” rated
Any EWG “A” rated dish detergent will get the job done safely.
Recommended safer dish detergents
See EWG top-rated dishwasher detergents here. We’ve had decent success with the Seventh Generation Dishwashing Detergent Pacs, Free & Clear (EWG rating: A), though we don’t love the powder residue that occasionally remains. Ecover Zero tablets (EWG rating: B) performs better here, but it doesn’t have that coveted “A” rating. Honestly, none of these performs quite as well in our experience as conventional detergents, but for us the trade-off is worth it. If you find the perfect detergent, where you feel you aren’t sacrificing performance at all — we definitely want to hear about it!
Avoid: Harsh cleaning agents, perfumes, optical brighteners, fabric softeners
Sadly, 40% of laundry detergents rated by EWG earn an “F” rating. Think you’re in the clear because you buy a “Free & Clear,” “natural,” or “baby-friendly” detergent? Well, hold onto your hats — Tide Free & Gentle, All Free & Clear, Kirkland Signature Free & Clear, Dreft, Seventh Generation Baby, Babyganics detergent, and Babyganics stain remover are all sitting on that “F” list.
So, what’s wrong with these detergents? There are various issues with the toxicity of the cleaning agents, surfectants, conditioning agents, and stabilizers that they use. Many of them also include artificial fragrances (often created using phthalates, can emit VOCs, and can cause allergic reactions); optical brighteners (which are there to make clothes look cleaner, even though they aren’t, but are often derived from the carcinogen benzene and can cause skin irritation); and fabric softeners (which are by nature designed to leave chemical residue behind in clothing). Additionally, many of them include phosphates, which are very harmful to aquatic ecosystems.
Look for: Non-toxic cleaning agents, additive free, EWG “A” rated
Recommended safer laundry products
- Green Shield Organic Laundry Detergent, Free & Clear (EWG rating: A; has occasionally been carried by Costco in the past; performs very well in our experience, with little appreciable difference in performance vs. conventional detergents)
- Planet Ultra Laundry Detergent, Hypo-Allergenic (EWG rating: A; also excellent performance; this is what we are using now that Green Shield is no longer carried by Costco; available at Amazon via Subscribe & Save)
- Seventh Generation Natural Powder Laundry Detergent, Free & Clear (EWG rating: A)
- Planet Ultra Powdered Laundry Detergent, Hypo-Allergenic (EWG rating: A)
- OxiClean Laundry Baby Stain Soaker (EWG rating: A; also sold at Target; stain remover)
For more choices, we refer you to EWG. See a list of all “A” rated laundry detergents here.
Avoid: Plastic toys containing PVC/vinyl, phthalates, or BPA; toxic paint and glues; lead and heavy metals; flame retardants
Avoid toys made out of PVC/vinyl, which often include phthalates (in soft vinyls) and organotins (in hard vinyls), and may also retain trace amounts of chlorine-related carcinogens. Be especially wary of soft plastic toys like bath toys, squeeze toys, dolls, and inflatable beach toys. Note that federal regulations went into effect in January 2012 requiring toys to meet or exceed a phthalate limit of 0.1%; so in theory, all toys manufactured after this date should be “safe.” However, beware hand-me-down or secondhand toys manufactured before regulations went into effect, or toys from manufacturers with poor or inconsistent testing protocols.
Also be wary of #7 (“other”) plastics, into which category polycarbonates fall; these may contain BPA or BPS, which are endocrine disruptors. Unfortunately, federal law does yet not regulate use of BPA in toys (only feeding products), but given the regularity with which babies mouth their toys, our view is that these should also be avoided. (Note that if your baby has outgrown the mouthing phase, this is not as pressing a concern, as BPA is ony dangerous if ingested.)
Avoid toys with potentially toxic paints/finishes (e.g. containing lead) or glues (e.g. formaldehyde-based), and other toys (e.g. metal jewelry, play make-up) likely to contain lead or other heavy metals. The CPSC started regulating lead limits in 2008, following a number of recalls that rocked the toy industry. At that time, an independent study by HealthyStuff.org detected lead in 20% of the toys tested. The current lead limit of 100ppm has been in place since August 2011. Toy safety standards expanded to include the other heavy metals listed above in June 2012. Therefore, all toys sold in the US manufactured after June 2012 should theoretically meet current federal safety standards. However, older toys (such as hand-me-downs and secondhand toys) should be heavily scrutinized, and are probably best avoided.
Also be aware of hard plastic toys, soft toys, and toys containing foam, which may contain flame retardants. To our knowledge there are no federal safety regulations governing use of flame retardants in baby toys.
If you have concerns about about a particular toy, the HealthyStuff.org database includes independent XRF testing results for chlorine, lead, and other chemicals (though unfortunately much of the data dates back to 2008, so predates current regulations and therefore is not necessarily reflective of products on shelves today).
Look for: Wood and safer plastic (BPA, PVC/vinyl, and phthalate-free) toys, non-toxic paints and glues, no flame retardants
For complete peace of mind, consider avoiding plastic entirely. Wood toys are a bit more expensive, but are a great choice. Look for unfinished wood, non-toxic clear finishes (beeswax or food-grade oils are best), or solvent-free, water-based paints. Opt for solid wood over engineered wood (as less glue is required), and look specifically for non-toxic (non-formaldehyde-based) glues.
When shopping for plastic toys, plastics #2, 4, and 5 are considered safer choices; look specifically for toys labeled PVC-free, phthalate-free, and/or BPA-free (usually marketers shout these labels from the rooftops, but you can also write to the manufacturer if unsure.
Recommended non-toxic toy brands:
- HABA: Wonderful wooden and soft toys. They use primarily maple and beech woods derived from sustainable forestry; their wooden toys are colored with non-toxic, water-based paints; and they hold several safety certifications. Most of the wooden toys are made in Germany, while the plush toys are manufactured in a wholly owned facility in China (with strict HABA quality controls).
- Plan Toys: Designed and manufactured in Thailand, Plan Toys are healthy not only for your child, but for the planet as well. Their toys are made from rubberwood (a sustainable by-product of rubber production); are packaged in recycled and recyclable packaging, printed with soy-based inks; are not chemically treated; are preservative, lead and formaldehyde-free; and use non-toxic (non-formaldehyde) glues and natural, water-based dyes.
- Green Toys: This US company produces non-toxic, sustainably manufactured toys made from recycled food-grade plastic (such as milk containers). They are free of BPA and phthalates, are designed with no external coatings (to avoid concerns about toxic paints), and are sold in recycled packaging. Their fantastic range of toys includes vehicles, sorters and stackers, and cookware and dish sets. Green Toys are made in California.
- Janod: This French company offers classic wooden toys and games that are premium quality and feature modern, distinctively French design. Their products are designed in France, and primarily manufactured in China and Romania.
- Hape Toys: Hape’s wood and bamboo toys feature clean, colorful design and are produced using renewable materials. They are manufactured in China, and are also marketed under the brand name “Educo.”
- Djeco: Based in Paris, Djeco produces high-quality toys, puzzles, and games, often featuring gorgeous whimsical illustrations. Their products are designed in France and manufactured in China and the Netherlands (some cardboard puzzles).
- Grimms Spiel & Holz: This German company makes simple, rustic, brightly colored wooden toys inspired by Waldorf education, including clutching toys, stacking and nesting toys, puzzles, blocks, and push and pull toys. Their toys are primarily made from alder, lime, maple and cherry woods, and incorporate only natural oils and water-based dyes. They are made in Germany.
- Wonderworld: Similar to Plan Toys, Wonderworld also products toys out of rubberwood in Thailand. They use only non-toxic, water-based paints.
- Camden Rose: Camden Rose produces toys that are made out of only all-natural materials, including wood, silk, wool and cotton, and are all certified non-toxic. Their wooden toys are minimalist, naturally colored, and derived from high quality woods such as cherry, maple and walnut. They are produced in the US and Peru, where they support two fair trade, non-profit organizations.
- Maple Landmark Toys: Maple Landmark produces a wide range of wooden toys, including their very popular name trains, in a range of finishes. Their products are made in Vermont.
- Under the Nile: This premium brand known for its organic clothing and textiles also makes GOTS-certified soft toys made with 100% Egyptian organic cotton fabrics and filling. They are dyed with metal-free colors, and don’t contain BPA, phthalates, lead, PVC, formaldehyde bue, toxic paints, or flame retardants. Under the Nile products are made in Egypt under fair trade conditions.
- miYim: miYim’s plush toys and loveys are made from organic cotton on the outside, polyester stuffing derived from recycled PET bottles (reducing the plastic going into landfills) on the inside, and non-toxic dyes.
- Etsy shops: There are also a number of wonderful shops featuring handmade wooden toys on Etsy, including these favorites:
Avoid: Flame retardants, PVC/vinyl
Some children’s sleepwear contains flame retardants. This is because the CPSC has established flammability standards that require all children’s sleepwear above size 9 months (up through size 14) to either be tight-fitting, or to withstand exposure to an open flame for three seconds. Fleecy, fuzzy sleepwear is more likely to require treatment in order to meets flammability standards.
Also avoid children’s rain gear (e.g. rain jackets, rain boots) made out of PVC/vinyl.
Look for: Natural fibers, organic cotton, no flame retardants
Our top picks for clothing materials are natural fibers, such as wool and cotton. Organic fabrics are great if you can afford them, to minimize your child’s exposure to pesticides. Conventionally grown cotton is cultivated using a significant amount of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, and is then processed with a wide range of toxic chemicals.
Unfortunately, organic clothing is expensive. If you can’t afford to buy 100% organic, consider buying for wardrobe staples and/or next-to-skin pieces. And be sure to wash any conventionally growth cotton clothing thoroughly before putting it on baby.
For sleepwear, look for the following message on the garment label to identify sleepwear that is NOT treated with flame retardants: “For child’s safety, garment should fit snugly. This garment is not flame resistant. Loose-fitting garments are more likely to catch fire.” You can also look for a label indicating that the item “is not intended for use as sleepwear” (another sign that it is not flame resistant). On the other hand, if you see a label with instructions describing how to take care of the garment to protect its flame resistance, that is a red flag.
Recommended organic baby clothing brands:
- Kate Quinn Organics: Mod baby basics in solid colors, made out of organic cotton.
- Under the Nile: Basic wardrobe staples in solid colors and a few prints, made from 100% organic Egyptian cotton.
- Hanna Andersson: High-quality clothing that stays looking new practically forever. Not everything is organic, but many items are. Great-fitting organic sleepwear and organic underwear.
Buy flame-retardant free furniture
Flame retardants are commonly added to household items containing polyurethane foam, such as couches, upholstered chairs, and carpet padding — see background as to why here. A Duke study found that 85% of couches in the study sample tested positive for flame retardants. Some of the most toxic flame retardants, PBDEs, were banned in 2005, but older foam products may still contain them. Furniture sold today often contains flame retardants such as TDCPP (“chlorinated tris”) and Firemaster 550, which are still harmful. Even more frustrating, it’s often difficult or even impossible for a consumer to determine whether a given piece of furniture contains flame retardants.
Luckily, the tides are shifting. An amendment to TB117, called TB 117-2013, took effect in January 2014 (with mandatory compliance by January 2015) to revise flammability testing standards in CA. It unfortunately didn’t ban the use of flame retardants in furniture, or even require the disclosure of such chemicals, but at least revised the standard to be more realistic, such that fewer furniture manufacturers will need to add chemical flame retardants to their products in order to meet the standard. Additionally, in September 2014, the CA governor signed a bill to require labeling on upholstered furniture so consumers will be able to tell whether it contains flame retardants. As a result, experts expect consumer demand will drive market forces to produce more flame retardant-free furniture.
Consider the amount of time that you (and your kids) spend sitting on the couch, and consider exercising your new rights to make an informed and healthier purchase decision. Here’s what you can do:
- Avoid products with a TB 117 label
- Seek out products with a TB 117-2013 label (note, however, that this in itself is not a guarantee that they are free of flame retardants)
- Verify with the manufacturer that the product is free of flame retardants
- Seek out manufacturers who sell flame retardant-free furniture. See here for a good starter manufacturer list.
Dust, vacuum, and wash hands regularly to minimize exposure
To minimize your family’s chances of ingesting the potentially toxic dust (from flame retardants, lead, and/or pesticides) that accumulates around your home:
- Reduce dust by wet mopping and damp dusting, and vacuuming with a HEPA filter
- Swipe TV and computer screens regularly, and dispose of old electronics
- Wash hands regularly, especially before eating
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a fantastic resource that generates independent research and consumer guides. Among other resources, they offer the following two consumer guides, which provide ratings on a wide range of popular consumer products (start by looking up the products you currently use in your home, and refer to them going forward for new purchases):
- EWG’s Skin Deep database (includes baby shampoo/wash, baby lotion, diaper creams, etc.)
- EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning (includes household cleaners, etc.)
GoodGuide, similar to but perhaps slightly less well known than EWG, rates products based on their health, environmental, and social impacts. They cover a number of baby-related product categories. For an assessment of a product’s toxicity only, focus on the “health” sub-score.
Healthy Child Healthy World is a CA-based nonprofit that works to raise consumer awareness and influence legislative reform.
HealthyStuff.org conducts independent XRF testing to test for a specific set of harmful chemicals (lead, cadmium, chlorine, arsenic, bromine, and mercury) across popular household products, including children’s toys. The site also contains information on consumer products containing chromium, tin, and antimony. (If you do visit this site, note that many of their tests results predate current legislation. For example, many toys tested were tested in 2008, prior to new toy regulations taking effect in 2011 and 2012. So be sure to check test dates before drawing any conclusions as to the safety of products currently available on the market.)
1,4 dioxane (EWG rating: 8) is present in many products, including solvents, varnishes, waxes, food additives, pesticides, and personal care products such as shampoos, baby lotions, and cosmetics (where it is formed as a by-product during manufacturing). According to Healthy Child, 1,4-dioxane can be identified by inspecting product ingredient lists for indications of ethoxylation including “myreth”, “oleth”, “laureth”, “ceteareth”, and other “eth” compounds, as well as “PEG,” “polyethylene,” “polyethylene glycol,” “polyoxyCheethlene,” or “oxynol.”
1,4-dioxane is a known eye and nose irritant, and is linked in the longer term to nerve, liver, and kidney damage. It is a known carcinogen in animals, and is considered “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” The FDA considers low levels in personal care products to be safe, but according to the CPSC even trace amounts may be problematic if exposures from multiple products build up over time.
The U.S. FDA deems levels in personal care products low enough to be considered safe, but some are concerned that repeated exposures from multiple products over time could be harmful.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a hormone-mimicking chemical found in polycarbonate plastics (clear, hard plastics — e.g. water bottles and baby bottles), epoxy resins, and the plastic linings of canned goods, to name a few. BPA has estrogenic properties which are linked to issues such as genital abnormalities, early puberty, low sperm count, neurological issues, depression, obesity, prostate and breast cancer. Most water bottles and baby bottles today are BPA-free, however the vast majority of canned goods still affected. The FDA’s current position is that BPA is safe at the levels currently occurring in foods, however they are monitoring the situation. See these helpful overviews on BPA from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Mayo Clinic, and the FDA.
Chemical fire retardants are common in many consumer products, including furniture, baby products, electronics, and appliances. It’s particularly common in furniture and baby products containing polyurethane foam.
This is due to a piece of legislation dating back to 1975 called TB 117, which established flammability standards on a wide range of products sold in CA (a major driver of market standards) in a misguided effort to improve fire safety. One of the most toxic classes of flame retardants, called PBDEs, was banned in 2005, but many older foam products containing them live on. And many other types of fire retardants, including TDCPP (“chlorinated tris”) and Firemaster 550, which have other harmful effects, remain in widespread use.
Flame retardant chemicals are believed to cause issues such as reduced IQ, learning disorders, reduced fertility, thyroid disruption, and cancer. Nearly all adults in the US test positive for flame retardants in their urine, and an EWG-Duke study found that children have nearly 5x the amount that their mothers do. A Duke study in 2011 found toxic flame retardants in the foam of 80 percent of baby products tested.
Thankfully, there have been some positive recent developments. Strollers, infant carriers, and nursing pillows were exempted from the flammability requirements of CA Technical Bulletin (TB) 117 in 2010.
In 2013, the state of California revised TB117, replacing it with TB 117-2013. As of January 2014 (with mandatory compliance by January 2015), many categories of products either face a revised, more reasonable set of flammability testing standards in CA, or are exempted from them entirely. Among them are upholstered furniture as well as 15 additional categories of baby products — including bassinets, car seats, changing pads, play mats, high chairs, infant seats, bouncers, swings, and playards (in addition to strollers, infant carriers, and nursing pillows, which were already exempted). Unfortunately use of flame retardants was not banned by TB 117-2013, however manufacturers in these product categories will be able to meet flammability standards more easily without the use of chemical flame retardants.
Sadly, car seats are also subject to Federal Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 302 (which governs flammability of all interior materials in cars), so most of them will probably continue to contain flame retardants for the foreseeable future. However, there are a few manufacturers who only use safer (non-halogenated and/or Oeko Tex-certified) flame retardants, and there are even some seat fabrics that are able to meet flammability standards without the addition of flame retardants.
Formaldehyde (EWG rating: 10) is used in the manufacturing of building materials, pressed-wood furniture, and many household products. Pressed wood products— including particleboard, plywood paneling, and medium-density fiberboard — are made using adhesives containing urea-formaldehyde resins (MDF contains the highest resin-to-wood ratio and thus releases the most formaldehyde).
The EPA’s description of formaldehyde’s health effects says it all: “Formaldehyde, a colorless, pungent-smelling gas, can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, and difficulty in breathing in some humans exposed at elevated levels (above 0.1 parts per million). High concentrations may trigger attacks in people with asthma. There is evidence that some people can develop a sensitivity to formaldehyde. It has also been shown to cause cancer in animals and may cause cancer in humans. Health effects include eye, nose, and throat irritation; wheezing and coughing; fatigue; skin rash; severe allergic reactions. May cause cancer.” See more from the EPA on formaldehyde.
Heavy metals (e.g. lead, antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, mercury, and selenium) pose a risk to your child if ingested (or possibly even inhaled, for example if burned or present in dust), even in tiny amounts. Lead has harmful effects on brain development, including reduced IQ, shorter attention span, and delayed development. Cadmium can negatively impact the kidney, lungs, motor skills, and behavior, and is also a known human carcinogen.
Lead was banned in house paint, children’s products, and dishes and cookware in the US in 1978. Additionally, limits on lead content in all children’s products were introduced in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement
Act (CPSIA) of 2008, and have become increasingly strict, with the current total lead limit of 100ppm (90ppm for paint and surface coatings) coming into effect in August 2011. In June 2012, the toy safety standard ASTM F 963-07 also established limits for seven other heavy metals: Antimony (Sb), Arsenic (As), Barium (Ba), Cadmium (Cd), Chromium (Cr), Lead (Pb), Mercury (Hg), and Selenium (Se). Third-party testing and certification is required. Thus, all toys sold in the US manufactured after June 2012 should theoretically meet current federal safety standards.
However, lead and heavy metals can still be found in old existing house paint layers and in hand-me-down children’s toys (in both the paint and the plastic) and other products, and could possibly also be found in new children’s toys or products (if certain problematic batches somehow managed to evade detection).
Oxybenzone (EWG rating: 8) is a widespread ingredient in chemical sunscreens that provides broad-spectrum ultraviolet coverage, but is partially absorbed into the skin (1-9% penetration). Animal studies have raised concerns that oxybenzone could be an endocrine disruptor. It has been found to form free radicals, causing cell damage and possibly leading to skin cancer. It also causes relatively high rates of skin allergy.
See more on sunscreen chemicals from EWG here.
Parabens — including Methylparaben (EWG rating: 4), Propylparaben (EWG rating: 10), Butylparaben (EWG rating: 7), and Ethylparaben (EWG rating: 4) — are among the most commonly used synthetic preservatives in cosmetics (including shampoos, moisturizers, cleansers, makeup, toothpaste, hair care products, and shaving products), thanks to their anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. They are also used in pharmaceuticals and as food additives (they are classified as “Generally Recognized As Safe” for food use). In animal studies they have shown some (weak) hormone-mimicking/estrogenic activity, igniting suspicion that they may be endocrine disruptors, and they have been found in breast cancer tumors — however, no causal relationship has been established. The FDA holds that “at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens,” but says that it will revaluate as new data arises.
Polyethylene Glycol (EWG rating: 3) is a family of chemicals that serve as surfactants, cleansing agents, emulsifiers, skin conditioners, and humectants in cosmetics. Some of the most common PEGs used in cosmetics are PEG-100 (EWG rating: 3), PEG-40 (EWG rating: 3), and PEG-8 (EWG rating: 3). According to EWG, there are moderate concerns around PEGs themselves potentially causing organ toxicity, but the greatest concern is actually around risk of contamination from ethylene oxide (a known human carcinogen and organ system toxicant; EWG rating: 10) and 1,4-dioxane (a possible human carcinogen and known organ system toxicant; EWG rating: 8).
Phenoxyethanol (EWG rating: 4) is a chemical preservative used in cosmetics (such as skin creams and sunscreens), vaccines, and pharmaceuticals (including vaccines). It is becoming increasingly common as cosmetic manufacturers scramble to find alternatives to parabens in response to consumer demand. The FDA issued a warning saying that phenoxyethanol can be toxic to infants via ingestion, and “can depress the central nervous system and may cause vomiting and diarrhea.” According to EWG, there is high concern with phenoxyethanol around skin, eye, or lung irritation, and moderate concern around organ system toxicity.
Phthalates (“THA-lates”) are chemical plasticizers used in the production of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic and other products to impart flexibility, and in cosmetics to bind fragrance. Some example phthalates include diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP), di-isodecyl phthalate (DIDP), di-isononyl phthalate (DINP), and di-n-octyl phthalate (DNOP).
Phthalates have been linked to reproductive issues (e.g.premature delivery, decreased sperm count, damaged sperm) and as well as reproductive development issues (e.g. early puberty, genital defects), especially in boys; behavioral issues; obesity; respiratory isuses in children with asthma; thyroid and kidney disease; and cancer (it has been classified as a probable carcinogen).
Federal regulations effective as of January 2012 require selected children’s toys and childcare articles to meet or exceed a limit of 0.1% for six different types of phthalates (DEHP, DBP, BBP, DINP, DIDP, and DnOP). However, only select types of children’s products are included, and older products still in circulation continue to be problematic.
Most plastics are made from non-renewable petroleum. Some plastics create harmful pollution during the manufacturing stage, and some can retain trace elements of harmful chemicals.
Potentially problematic plastics include those sporting recycling code #3 (PVC/vinyl; likely to contain phthalates), #6 (polystyrene, e.g. plastic cutlery and Styrofoam; can leach styrene), and #7 (“other”; includes polycarbonate, the hard clear plastic used in water bottles and baby bottles; may contain BPA). These types of plastics should only be purchased and used with caution.
“Safer” plastics include #1 (PET, such as that used in disposable water bottles), 2 (high-density polyethylene, such as that used in milk jugs), 4 (low-density polyethylene, such as in plastic grocery bags and plastic wrap), and 5 (polypropylene, found in hard but flexible plastics such as yogurt containers). Here’s a helpful guide from Healthy Child describing the various types of plastics in more detail.
Flexible polyurethane foam is a common component in a wide range of products, from upholstered furniture to baby products to carpet underlay to automotive interiors. It is able to capable of wearing significant weight, and yet is very resilient.
Polyurethane foam offgasses to to some extent, though (no surprise) the Polyurethane Foam Association insists it “does not typically emit significant amounts of either EPA-listed VOCs or ‘semi-VOCs.'” And it’s true that the EPA does not list polyurethane foam as a primary source of indoor air pollution or VOCs.
The more serious concern with polyurethane foam is that it is often treated with chemical flame retardants in order to meet flammability standards.
If you’re going to buy a product containing polyurethane foam, it’s worth looking for foam that has been certified as safer foam. CertiPUR-US is a foam testing and certification program for foam that is manufactured to have low total emissions. CertiPUR-US certified foams are certified to be made without CFCs, PBDE flame retardants, lead and other heavy metals, formaldehyde, and the seven phthalates regulated by the CPSC, and also to be low-VOC (less than 0.5 parts per million). Note that the CertiPUR-US certification does NOT require the foam to be free of ALL flame retardants (just PBDEs), so you should still confirm that an individual product is free of flame retardants before buying. See here for a list of manufacturers selling products including CertiPUR-US certified foam.
PVC (#3 plastic) is used in shower curtains, pipes, toys, and more. Significant pollution is created during the manufacturing process; workers and people living nearby may be exposed to vinyl chloride and/or dioxin (both carcinogens). PVC can also let off dioxins when burned at the end of its lifecycle. This environmental pollution also ends up working its way up the food chain when it gets consumed by animals.
Toxic additives are also often added to PVC, such as lead and other metals (used as stabilizers or to impart other properties) and phthalates/other plasticizers (to impart flexibility).
Propylene glycol (EWG rating: 3) is an organic alcohol derived from glycerin that is widely used in cosmetics and personal care products. It is used as a thickener, a moisturizer (to improve the appearance of skin), and a stabilizer in everything from store bought hair dyes to many of your natural deodorants. Propylene glycol has been classified as “Generally Recognized as Safe” by the FDA for use in food and cosmetics. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) panel has classified it to be “safe for use in cosmetic produtcs at concentrations up to 50%” (higher concentrations can cause irritation and sensitization). No surprise, Dow (the leading manufacturer of the chemical) also says it is safe. In giving it a rating of “3”, EWG primarily cites its classification as a skin irritant as well as its status on the Environment Canada Domestic Substance List as “Classified as expected to be toxic or harmful.”
These chemicals (distinct but often confused, due to their similar names) are used in many beauty products, including shampoos, body washes, hand soap, toothpaste, mouthwash, and detergents.
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS; EWG rating: 1-2) is a surfectant and foaming agent that help to produce that rich lather that many consumers equate with cleaning power. SLS is a known skin and eye irritatant, and according to EWG may also be an organ toxicant. It is also hazardous to aquatic ecosystems. However, contrary to popular belief, there is no scientific evidence so far that SLS is carcinogenic.
Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES; EWG rating: 3), another surfectant, is also a skin and eye irritant, but even more problematic is the fact that it is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane (a known animal carcinogen and possible human carcinogen; EWG rating: 8) and/or ethlyene oxide (EWG rating: 10).
The good news is that if you prefer to avoid SLS and SLES, consumer demand has prompted many alternatives to come available in the market.
Triclosan (EWG rating: 7) is a chemical added to personal care and home cleaning products as a preservative and a broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent (it stops or slows the growth of bacteria, fungi, and mildew). It can be found in hand soap, hand sanitizer, dishwashing liquid, toothpaste, toothbrushes, sponges, kitchenware, and clothing. It has been linked to hormone disruption in animals and may contribute to bacteria resistance to antibiotics. It may also negatively impact aquatic ecosystems.
According to the FDA, triclosan has been shown to be effective in providing gingivitis. However, antibacterial soaps and body washes containing triclosan have not been shown to be any more effective than just washing with plain soap and water. The FDA is still in the process of reviewing triclosan for safety.
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